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Building a Strong Bench: The Importance of Succession Planning


By Steve Margalit, FPCJust as Major League Baseball has a “farm system” where they cultivate promising talent in the Minor Leagues before they bring them up to play in the Majors, so too must companies if they hope to maintain continuity and build a sustainable leadership team.

Nothing disrupts a company faster than a sudden change in leadership. Whether this is in the C-suite or in front-line supervision, the unplanned departure of a critical executive, manager, or star performer can create havoc and cripple a company until a suitable replacement is found, trained, and onboarded into the role.

Even when the departure is not sudden, companies still struggle with finding appropriate replacements internally. Without the proper professional development programs in place, departments or whole organizations have fewer options to keep the operation running smoothly.

To develop “bench strength,” or the ability to fill a critical vacancy quickly and effectively, companies need to focus on succession planning. They must develop a process where they continually identify and develop promising talent to progress through the ranks within the organization.

Let’s take a look at four steps companies can take to knock it out of the park, build a strong bench, and ensure continuity in the face of leadership transitions.

Assess Your Workforce

Begin your succession planning initiative by conducting a thorough analysis of your organization’s workforce and the roles that are the most crucial for your continued operation. Begin with senior-level leadership and work your way lower through the organizational chart, identifying the positions that, if suddenly vacant, would interrupt your business, diminish functionality or capacity, disrupt your revenue stream, increase expenses, or cause other significant harm to the company.

Next, examine your options and determine if you have capable personnel who could quickly and effectively assume the roles of your critical positions. How strong is your current bench? Where are your gaps? What are your vulnerabilities?

While it’s safe to assume that all positions in your company are essential, some are more vital than others. Once you determine the roles that need to be protected, you can create your company’s succession plan.

Build a Plan 

There are several components to building an effective succession plan. Begin by developing general requirements for the positions you are targeting. This will include broad qualifications such as years of experience needed, leadership competencies, education, and industry knowledge.

In addition, there also needs to be specific requirements that pertain to your company, the workplace culture, organizational objectives, top-tier accounts, and history of the organization. It’s one thing to possess the general skills required to handle the responsibilities of the position, but it’s quite another to be able to jump into a role at a moment’s notice, hit the ground running, and achieve a seamless transition.

Bridge the Gap

Once you have identified the position’s requirements, build a roadmap to create a bridge from a lower position in your company’s hierarchy. What experience, training, knowledge, and resources will be required to move someone from a subordinate role into the target position? Develop a plan to prepare promising talent for each critical role.

While you are building your succession plans, hand-pick potential candidates for promotions to key positions. The time to begin preparing them for advancement is not the day the position becomes vacant. From the moment a promising employee assumes a new role, they should be groomed for the next stop on their career path.

Your succession plans should include a blend of professional development programs and hands-on experience. In addition to formal and on-the-job training, it’s important to provide candidates with practical experience in performing key functions of the role. Provide employees with opportunities to make decisions, take actions, and assume responsibility for outcomes. How else will you be able to assess whether or not candidates are ready to jump into higher roles? Provide specific feedback and additional opportunities until they are ready for the Major Leagues.

Hire for the Future

When a job becomes available, many hiring professionals focus only on the specific qualifications for the position in question. But if your goal is to recruit candidates who can grow within your company, then it is important to expand the criteria to include qualities that will be needed as they progress within your organization.

Using this strategy, you can add depth to your workforce by focusing on the continual development of promising employees. In addition to creating a strong bench, you are also providing employees with a clear career map that will help them develop professionally and climb to positions of greater responsibility and complexity. This promotes greater employee retention, engagement, and job satisfaction.

Next Steps

When building your succession plans, you do not have to do it alone. Experienced recruiters can help assess your workforce needs and develop a comprehensive roadmap that includes new talent acquisition and internal succession planning.

With decades of experience, more than 60 offices nationwide, and hundreds of professional recruiters, FPC National has the experience and expertise to help you create an effective workforce plan and build a strong bench to ensure you are always bringing your “A” game.

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